Truth and lies in the Cayman Islands

By | Category: Travel rumblings

There is a mismatch between the popular myths and the reality, when it comes to the Cayman Islands

First it was the Panama Papers… now it’s the Paradise Papers – a huge treasure trove of leaked documents showing where the ultra-rich and powerful keep their cash offshore.

Cayman has been named in the latest data leak not least because its emerged that the Queen’s private estate invested nearly £6 million in a fund held on the islands.

The fuss over the Paradise Papers has cast Cayman as a Caribbean island with a darker side – a destination synonymous with artful dodgers and tax cheats, thereby reinforcing the stereotype perpetrated in The Firm.

John Grisham’s best selling novel – which was later turned into a blockbuster film starring Tom Cruise – revolved around a suspicious law firm that laundered mafia money in Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands (there’s also Cayman Brac and Little Cayman).

Together The Firm and the Paradise Papers have painted a picture of Cayman, as a place teeming with danger and adventure. In reality, it’s anything but.

And I should know. Aged 27, I headed east to Grand Cayman (pronounced kei-man) in search of adventure, only to discover that my “Great Expectations” left me as thwarted as Miss Havisham.

Sadly I didn’t find bankers cutting deals in fast cars or on super-sized yachts, surrounded by ridiculously good looking people. Rather I found a sleepy backwater place where shops and supermarkets still remain shut on Sundays, and  ‘go slow’ could be the official island motto.

Carnival in Cayman

Sure Cayman boasts some some spectacular beaches including Seven Mile Beach – a stunning stretch of sand pictured on every postcard – fantastic diving, good golf, a smattering of decent restaurants and Stingray City, a sandy shallow spot where you can meet the Cayman Islands’ most famous residents (southern stingrays). But that’s about it.

Yet the myth persists that Cayman is, according to The Guardian,  “the most notorious tax haven on earth” despite the fact that Bermuda, Brunei, Bahamas, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Singapore, the US and UAE are all countries or territories where taxes are assessed at a low or nonexistent rate.

And having lived and worked in Cayman, I’ll confess that I can’t see what the problem is if the islands are a tax haven. Locals and expats like me (who preferred to spend weekends toasting on a sun lounger as opposed to shivering through winter back in the Motherland) might not pay income tax but Cayman is no bargain destination. Make no mistake: everyday items are incredibly expensive with a mere pot of Marmite weighing in a whopping £7 (and this was way back in 2008-9).

My message? If you’re searching for a pot of gold in Grand Cayman, good luck. You’ll need it.

George Town, Cayman’s capital

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